"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."


Glenn Reynolds:

Barack Obama:
"Impossible to transcend."

Albert A. Gore, Jr.:
"An incontinent brute."

Rev. Jeremiah Wright:
"God damn the Gentleman Farmer."

Friends of GF's Sons:
"Is that really your dad?"

Kickball Girl:
"Keeping 'em alive until 7:45."

Hired Hand:
"I think . . . we forgot the pheasant."

I'm an
Alcoholic Yeti
in the
TTLB Ecosystem

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Henry James

We would like to thank the High School English teacher who forced us to study Daisy Miller. Without that repulsive and ill-timed force-feeding, we might have seriously considered actually reading Henry James before we reached middle age. And that would have been a tragedy. In the event, we rebounded from what was – to us at that time – the impenetrable surface formed from equal parts of complex prose and unimaginable meaning.

So far beyond being comprehensible to the college aged, we think it unlikely James can be truly grasped by that most confident demographic cohort, the over-educated thirty-something, who believes they have acquired wisdom by surviving into a second decade of perceived adulthood.

In The Portrait of a Lady, whose heroine – Isabel Archer – we must certainly fall in love with (every male character does so, and with good reason), James describes Gilbert Osmond, a middle-aged widower, who had grown content in his by now long-standing reacquired bachelorhood, content in a life constructed from modestly doing as he pleased, content to occupy his time doing not very much. She is perhaps 18, he must be nearly 50:
Absolutely void of success his career had not been; a very moderate amount of reflection would have assured him of this. But his triumphs were, some of them, now, too old; others had been too easy. The present one had been less difficult than might have been expected; but it had been easy – that is, it had been rapid – only because he had made an altogether exceptional effort, a greater effort than he had believed it was in him to make. The desire to succeed greatly – in something or other – had been the dream of his youth; but as the years went on, the conditions attached to success became so various and repulsive that the idea of making an effort gradually lost its charm. It was not dead, however; it only slept; it revived after he had made the acquaintance of Isabel Archer.
The cad. A bounder. This can not end well. If only we could save her!


Comments on "Henry James"


Anonymous maryslibrary said ... (9:48 AM) : 

Good for you. You'd get an A if you were in my American lit class.

The scene where Isabel sits in front of the fire and admits to herself that she has made a terrible mistake is one of the great recognition scenes in all of 19th century literature. It's the female equivalent of the passage you quote.

James was about 35 years old when he wrote PoaL.



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